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Handwarmers: A Great Holiday Gift!

Quick & Easy Handwarmers

Are looking for a quick, easy and inexpensive gift for the upcoming holidays?  Ummm, who isn't right?  I have found Pocket Handwarmers to be one of my answers!

I always struggle with gifts, this time of year.  Showing appreciation for those in your life is SO important.  It is one of the things that we try to teach our girls by word and deed.

But we also have a budget...so how do you show appreciation and thanks without breaking the proverbial bank?

Creative and useful handmade gifts are my answer!  To be honest, I have given these sweet handwarmers to my kids' teachers the last few years and they have been a HUGE hit!  So I wanted to share the idea...just beware that if your kids are classmates of mine....the idea is TAKEN!

What are handwarmers?

For those who are not blessed to live in Wisconsin (or other amazingly cold areas of our great country), you may not know what these little guys are!

These adorable handmade handwarmers are made with flannel and filled with rice or flaxseeds.  You can put them in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds, and they turn into fantastic handwarmers for your coat pockets!

They don't stay warm for a super long period of time, but enough to warm up recess duty, walking the dog, shoveling the driveway, outdoor nativity viewing, etc.

You can customize the shape of your handwarmers!

Another fun thing about this project, is that you can make them in any shape you want!  I've seen them as hearts, circles, squares, footballs, the profile of dog or cat heads, etc.  The more intricate the shape, the more difficult the cutting and sewing will be.

For this tutorial, I chose to use heart and square shapes.  I like the heart shape since they are small and easily folded to fit into smaller spaces like small pockets or snow boots.  Although a little feminine for some folks taste ; )  The basic square fits the bill for those who have more testosterone flowing through their veins, or who are not "heart" kind of folks.

No judgement, to each his own.

Choose your shape and make a template

Handwarmers shape template

After you choose what shape you would like to make your handwarmers, you need to make or find yourself a template.  I use this heart that I drew, which is about 4 by 4 inches at its greatest dimension.

You can make your template as large or small as you like.  Just realize that you have to sew it, flip it right side out, fill with rice and hand stitch closed.  If you make it too small, it will be difficult to work with and manipulate.  Too big and it won't fit into pockets.

I find 4 to 5 inches to be the sweet spot.

Use what you have around you...no need to be an artist...

You do not need to be an artist to make a template, use what you have around you!  The rim of a drinking glass for a circle, trace another object found in your home, or print a downloadable image from google.

I AM not an artist...it took multiple drafts to get this shape right and I may have had help from a kid or two ; )  If I can do it, so can you.

Prepare your cotton fabric...

Once you have that decided, choose your fabric.  I always use flannel for these little guys, it is cotton and safe for the microwave.  You really should stick with 100% cotton fabrics for this project, since non-cottons can melt or be flammable if left in the microwave for too long.

***Always make sure to include instructions if given as a gift, and note that these should not be heated for more than 15 seconds at a time!***

Prepare and iron your fabric.  It is easier to cut out intricate shapes on nicely pressed fabric.

Cut out pattern pieces using your template


Cut out 2 pieces of fabric for each warmer, 4 pieces total for a set of two handwarmers.  This is most easily done, by folding your chosen fabric, right sides together, and cutting two pieces at a time.

Depending on the template you have chosen to use, you may use your fabric scissors (as I did for the hearts) or your rotary cutter (as I did for the squares).

Place RIGHT sides together...

Cut pieces for handwamers, right sides together
Cut pieces, placed right sides together

After your pattern pieces are cut out, place them RIGHT sides together.

Another advantage of cutting out both pieces together, with the fabric folded right sides together, is that you have pattern pieces that are EXACTLY the same!

Plan for your "opening" and pin...

As a general rule, when you sew items right sides together, an "opening" is left in your line of stitching.  This is used to turn the item right side out, as we will do for this project.

I recommend you look at your pattern piece and choose a straight stretch in which to leave your "opening".  I always double pin at my starting and stopping points.  As you can see, I choose to leave my opening at the right lower side of the heart shape.  I would recommend avoiding corners and curves.

You will be handsewing this area closed to finish the project.  It is MUCH easier to handsew along a straight line...you'll thank me later!

Handwarmers pinned and prepared for sewing

Start sewing your straight stitch seam...

Now get to sewing!  A basic straight stitch is all you need to use here.  Start where you determined best and be sure to backstitch several stitches to anchor your seam line.

Whenever you turn an item from rights sides together to right side out, you put stress on the starting and stopping points in your stitching.  Save yourself a headache and reinforce these points on your projects.  Just get in the habit of doing so!

Depending on the shape you chose, this might be a really easy 4 seams, like my square, or a little more involved.  Go slow, easing and turning your fabric around the curves and pivoting with your needle down, at corners and when indicated.

Be sure to leave your 1 inch opening and reinforce your stitching before and after this opening.


Clip curves & corners

Now it is time to clip your corners and curves.  Why do we do this you ask?

To allow the fabric to ease and fit the curves once you turn everything right side out.  The general rule is to clip inside curves and notch outside curves.

See the infographics below for a visual representation of this process.  It takes a few looks for it to make sense...but you will understand once you flip everything right side out.  Experiment not clipping and then clipping....you will see why we do it!

Clipping Curves
Clipping seam allowance of a sewn curve
Clipping curves, sewing technique
Cutting notches out of seam allowance of a curve

Below is what these shapes look like after clipping and notching.  Really, notching is what is done here.  And for the record I'm a "happy clipper and notcher"....meaning I probably cut more than is necessary for a good result.

Sewing Technique: Turning right side out

Turn Right Side Out....

Now we turn them RIGHT SIDE OUT.

Do this slowly and gently so that you don't rip stitches out at the starting and stopping points of your stitching, as we reviewed earlier.

You will have about a 1 inch opening, which you can see in the pictures below.  Arrange the opening so that the edges are even with the shape of your warmer.

Iron well.  This is to press the edge of the unstitched area to keep its shape.  It will be easier to handsew closed in a little bit.

Sewing Technique: Turning right side out

Time to add the filling...

Now we add the filling!

You can choose to use whole flax seed or rice for the filling, although I choose to use rice for these little guys.

I have found that I only need about 1/4 cup of rice for each heart shaped handwarmer.  I used closer to 1/3 cup for the square shape.

Filling sewn handwarmers with rice

The amount of rice needed will vary based on the size and shape of the handwarmer that you chose to make.  You want them to be full enough to take shape and hold some warmth, but not too full that they can't be manipulated to fit into pockets and tight spaces.

Once your handwarmers are full of rice or flaxseed, pin your opening closed with a few pins.  This will keep your filling in place while you prepare to get your handstitching skills on!


Time to handstitch those openings closed

Time to handsew!  Don't be intimidated by this skill....it's really not that hard.

I like to use a ladder stitch to close my openings when handsewing is needed, although there are several different stitches that you could use.

Handsewing handwarmers closed
Handstitching handwarmers closed using a ladder stitch

I was going to try to describe this in great detail, but instead decided to share some resources of ladies that have done this well already.  No need to reinvent the wheel!

Apartment Therapy has a good article with helpful pictures and descriptions of several stitches, with the Slip Stitch or Ladder Stitch description being helpful for our need here.

Treasurie blog also has a nice post reviewing several basic handstitches, including ladder stitch.  Check it out here.

Bottom line is, don't be afraid!  You can do it, and it might not be perfect the first time.  That is ok....no one else will notice.  Absolute worse case scenario, you rip out the stitches and start over....NBD (no big deal)!


And that's it....look how cute they are?

Like my mother always told me "practice makes perfect".  That is particularly true for handsewing!  Don't get discouraged if you are unhappy with your stitching, just keep practicing.

Now who are you going to make a few sets for?  I would love to see your finished products, particularly if you choose a unique or different shape!

Looking for more handmade gift ideas?  Check out my Sew a Pillowcase Tutorial and stay tuned for more tutorials coming soon!  Sign up for my monthly newsletter for a review of posts and a sneak peak of what is coming soon!

Be safe & stay well,

Jen J